Musicians gang up again

Indomitable Gang of Four reunites, rerecords, reminisces

Gang of Four emerged from Leeds, England, in 1979 with an angular aesthetic musical archaeologists have since found widely dispersed through new bands. Mixing acerbic polemics and pointillist funk into arch calls to arms, Gang of Four was canonized by “dance punks” alongside London’s Wire.

Since returning from the ether, Gang of Four has remastered and reissued its import-only debut, Entertainment!, and prepared a rerecorded and remixed classics album, Return the Gift. Straining his ears and stretching his memory from a pub, Burnham listened to CL-selected songs intended to jog opinions of who Gang of Four is, were, and where the band went and is going.

Tom Robinson Band, “2-4-6-8 Motorway” (1977)

“I always thought Tom — though not one of my favorites — was a solid, brave artist. His track ‘Glad to be Gay’ was fucking right in people’s faces, made them think, excited. This song, however, I always thought was pop, not a stimulating punk song, just a weak version of mad bastard Jonathan Richman’s ‘Roadrunner.’ ‘Roadrunner’ [a 1975 two-chord classic] was pop, but you could feel that around it was a movement — not something corporate and inaccessible but run by scruffs like yourself who could just get up and play.”

Joy Division, “Leaders of Men” (1978)

“Joy Division opened for us a few times in Manchester, as it was just over the hill from our home in Leeds ... and I remained friends with Hooky [bassist Peter Hook] and New Order. The Manchester scene seemed to have a focus that took it in a powerful direction. All of us in northern cities didn’t have analytical interests in each other, but as we were all detached from London, we shared a common musical strength and desire to stay separate. Not in a self-indulgent, ‘Oh, we’re art-punk’ way, just to be fun, noisy, interesting and drink heavily.”

Pylon, “Dub” (1979)

“We loved Pylon; they opened for us in New York around 1979. We all understood being closely aligned with small towns, either being the big or kid brother band of another, yet wanting to be different. Like right now, there’s a band in Athens called Music Hates You that I think is fucking great, but they’re a vicious metal band that doesn’t subscribe to the art-student vibe. Still, small towns produce amazing, fun artists.”

Go Home Productions, “Bring the Television” [A Television + Public Enemy mash-up] (2003)

“Television was brilliant, spoke volumes musically, and Public Enemy was the Stones or Pistols, were they not? You have to upturn people, and what a powerful group of people they were. The idea to combine them is quite cheeky. However, I can’t really talk much about Go Home Productions [U.K. producer Mark Vidler], even though he did us a remix. Dave [Allen, Gang of Four bassist who went on to form Shriekback in 1982] was really the one involved once word got out we were open to challenging, contemporary contributors. I’m a fucking college professor listening to the Wiggles and the Who with my 5-year-old. Though I think it’s great people like Tony Kanal [of No Doubt] did remixes. I appreciate bands that are successful without turning crap, and that understand style is not just about being well dressed. It’s a personal thing that extends to all good music, and writing songs in a concise yet powerful style is an art and one of the hardest things in any genre.”

Franz Ferdinand, “Outsiders” (2005)

“I wasn’t sure at first, but the more I listen to Franz, I think they are a good band. They’re fun, but bloody skinny, aren’t they? Of course, I think, ‘Boy, been here before,’ even with their visuals, but I don’t feel they’re ripping us off any more than we did those before us. Hopefully they will throw ideas around, perpetually re-examine and challenge each other as we did. Whenever a band like Franz or Bloc Party is compared to someone like us it’s great, because it moves the conversation forward, new people examine Gang of Four. It’s fantastic when new bands are successful, as we initially never were.”